Even by her own account, Jewel Kilcher never should have made it this far.
The singer-songwriter — a three-time Grammy nominee — has sold more than 27 million records in her 14-year career. She’s big enough to go by only her first name, and even if you don’t own her 1995 debut, “Pieces of You,” you probably know the lyrics to half the tunes.
These days, Jewel lives on a 2,220-acre farm in Stephenville, Texas, with her rodeo cowboy husband, Ty Murray. It is a world away from the green Datsun station wagon she called home when she was homeless on the streets of San Diego before her big break.
“I should have been a statistic,” Jewel says. “I was in a lot of dangerous situations, and I’m just amazed how things worked out.”
Jewel’s ancestors were among the pioneers of Alaska, settling there when it was a territory. She spent her early years in a log cabin in Homer with no running water or electricity. The family raised its own food, caught salmon, canned berries and made butter.
Jewel’s parents, Atz and Nedra, were local musicians. After her parents divorced, Jewel, at 8 years old, began performing with her father as a duet.
“I was raised singing with my dad,” she says. “It was a blue-collar job — not glamorous. That’s how we made money.
“But I loved it,” Jewel says. “I was fascinated at a young age not by the attention but by the Rubik’s Cube of what a good song was.”
At 15, Jewel performed solo for the first time and eventually earned a scholarship to Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. A year later on spring break, Jewel took her guitar and hitchhiked to Mexico, earning money as a minstrel. She returned two weeks later with the lyrics and chord progression for a song she titled “Who Will Save Your Soul.”
Following Interlochen, Jewel hopped a train for San Diego. She bounced through a long list of dead-end jobs. She was fired from the last one because she wouldn’t reciprocate her boss’ romantic advances. Without income, she ended up in that green Datsun. When that was stolen, she borrowed $1,000 from a friend and upgraded to a van.
Desperate for a change, Jewel returned to what she knew. She pulled out her guitar and eventually landed a steady gig at Innerchange Coffeehouse. There, her deceptively powerful voice belted out lyrics that were at once brutally honest and comfortingly naïve (She’s an ugly girl/Does that make you feel safe?/Ugly girl ugly girl/Do you hate her/‘Cause she’s piece of you?).
Within five months, Atlantic Records signed Jewel. She was 19.
“I was shocked when I got signed,” she says. “That was never the goal. It was a happy accident.”
Pieces of Jewel
Jewel’s debut, the folk-laced “Pieces of You,” was released in February 1995. But much to Atlantic’s dismay, it hardly warranted a blip on the music radar, selling only about 3,000 copies in its first nine months.
However, instead of giving up on its new artist, Atlantic sent Jewel on tour. She maintained an exhausting schedule — 40 shows in 30 days — thanks to the work ethic she forged during those farm days with no electricity.
In a year, “Pieces of You” had become a major hit. Today, it has sold more than 12 million copies — more than Nirvana’s seminal “Nevermind.”
Throughout her career, Jewel has taken her songwriting and fans across music genres. After “Pieces of You,” she returned with 1998’s “Spirit,” which featured a poppy edge complete with more instrumentation and a slicker sound. On 2001’s “This Way,” Jewel experimented with electronic drum loops and continued to stretch further with 2003’s “0304,” a record inspired by the electronic grooves popular in dance clubs.
Jewel’s 2006 release, “Goodbye Alice in Wonderland,” was both a return to her singer-songwriter roots as well as her first foray into the country genre. She followed with 2008’s “Perfectly Clear.” Firmly planted in the country genre, the album landed the top spot on U.S. Billboard’s Top Country Albums in 2008.
“I don’t see the differences in music styles,” Jewel says. “Music is like clothing — you don’t want to wear the same sweatpants every day. I’ve just tried to push myself as a songwriter and singer. It’s given me the freedom to explore.”
Jewel’s Sarasota performance is in support her latest record, “Lullaby,” a 15-song collection of lullabies and the kickoff album for Fisher-Price’s Artist Series. Although certainly child friendly, the album isn’t solely for a younger audience, Jewel says.
“It’s for adults, too,” she says. “People can come home at the end of a stressful day and listen to this record. It’s soothing.”
Jewel’s performance will be solo acoustic, which she says will give her a chance to host a more intimate concert.
And although “Lullaby” was released less than six months ago, Jewel has at least three different albums of music ready to go.
“I have one that’s alternative/folk, one that’s country, one that’s up-tempo rock,” she says. “I also want to do a big band record and do some jazz singing. It just takes so long to get records out; I wish I could do them all at once.”
Contact Michael Eng at [email protected].
WHEN: 8 p.m., Nov. 4
WHERE: Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
TICKETS: $30.50 to $60.50
INFORMATION: 953-3368 or www.vanwezel.org